Made in Croatia

Making a Fresh Start in Croatia with a Booming Line of Nautical Jewelry

By 3 December 2015

Romanian duo, Mirela and Ionut, only regret they didn't make the move sooner

We are used to reading about young people moving out of Croatia in search of a better life, but when a successful couple decides to leave their growing construction business in Romania and start afresh in Croatia with a line of nautical bracelets, well, that's news in our book.

Meet Mirela Rus and Ionut Copiou,  dynamic duo from Bucharest that did just that. They said goodbye to a growing construction business, life full of deadlines and stress, and replaced it with something neither of them ever worked in before - a line of fashoin accessories in a town they instantly fell in love with - Split.

Even though they have only been here for few months and hardly finished unpacking their personal belongings in their new home in Split area of Firule, they've managed to set up a store in the heart of the city, in Trogirska ulica, just few steps away from the pedestrial shopping district - Marmontova. I managed to catch them while they were putting the finishing touches on their store which is opening on December 3, 2015.

Your background is in construction and you ended up designing a line of bracelets and jewelry. How did this come along, what inspired the bracelet line?

Ionut: About two years ago, I saw a rope bracelet on someone’s wrist, and I wanted to make one for myself, too. But it was an extremely busy time then, we were finishing one construction project and about to start a new one, so I let the idea go. However, in January this year, when things slowed down a bit, the whole bracelet idea came back to me. This time I actually started to look for materials and I made several bracelets – but I never got around to wearing them, because my friends liked them and so I gave them away. Actually, a good friend of mine wanted the first bracelet I ever made and he asked me to write that down on a napkin (we were at a party), saying that one day it will be worth a lot of money. We were laughing about that, but somehow, just one short month later, we were launching the online store and people from all over the world started to buy the bracelets I was making. 

How did you decide to say goodbye to your previous life and a successful company, pack up your bags and move to Croatia?

Mirela: I fell in love with Croatia over 15 years ago. I was a journalist then, and I was working in an international project, along with fellow journalists from all South-East European countries. One of them, Frano, was Croatian and he invited all of us to his summer house in Vinisce. The first time I saw the Vinisce bay from above, I cried. And, for the first time ever, I felt I was home. So I have returned to Vinisce almost each summer and, when I met Ionut, I brought him here and I told him this is where I want to live.

Ionut: Yes, she did say exactly that, and – with each more summer holiday spent in Croatia – I started to love the idea more and more, too.  So last year we decided that 2015 will be it! Sure, the construction business was successful and we could have continued to build in Bucharest, but we wanted to move away from what was quite a stressful life. We wanted to stop and smell the roses. So we would have moved even if we would have not started the nautical bracelets adventure, but somehow things just “clicked”.

You now have your own store, you're selling your line on Amazon, did you expect things to move along so quickly?

Mirela: If you would have told me in January that by December we would have our own brand (Break Time is officially registered as an EU Trademark), our own online shop, that we would be present on Etsy and Handmade at Amazon, that we would have orders coming in from Germany to United States and from Ireland to the Emirates, I would have laughed. Even the Split store, that was not scheduled to happen yet. We actually wanted to rest and relax for a few months. But we moved in October and here we are in December, opening our first Break Time store in the area we love the most, the Old City.

What are the bracelets made from and how durable are they?

Ionut: We have developed several collections and each has its own specific materials. For instance, on the Split Collection (which is also the most popular one) we are using alloy anchor hooks and either high-quality paracord (parachute cord) or ecological leather. These bracelets are for going to town, to work, to club etc. The most durable bracelets (ones that can be worn even in the sea, in the shower, at the pool etc.) are the ones from the Trogir collection, for which we use original yachting rope and hypoallergenic stainless steel closings.  

Out of all the cities in Croatia, you decided to move to Split. You've been here a while now and what are your first impressions? Is there anything you miss here?

Mirela: We absolutely LOVE Split! The city is absolutely amazing, we are discovering something new and we are making new friends each day, and I don’t remember any other time in our lives when we were smiling quite as much as we do now. Both of us, seriously, we are smiling each time we look around us and realize that we really, truly are here. We do miss our friends and family, but most of them plan to visit us next year, which will be nice. Otherwise, we do not miss anything.  OK, I admit, as the Starbucks addict that I am, I miss my Tazo Chai Tea Soya Latte, but being here is totally worth the “sacrifice”.

What is the concept of the store? Are you concentrating on the line of bracelets or are you planning to expand your offer?

Ionut: For the Split store, we plan to stick to the bracelets and the other nautical items (keychains, necklaces) that I make myself, things that people will not find anywhere else but in our shop. However, we constantly expand the color combinations, the rope and hooks that we use etc. and so far the response was great from our clients, both online, as well as at the boat shows where we were present with our collections.

Mirela: However, we will expand the offer for the online shop, starting actually this month. Besides the nautical jewelry that Ionut makes, we will start selling a beautiful collection of hand-painted dresses. A very talented Romanian artist designs them, especially for our Break Time brand and each of them is unique. What they all have in common is the nautical theme – and actually most of them are designed with Croatian elements.

Name your 5 favourite things about living in Split

Mirela: The Adriatic Sea is top on my list, for sure! I feel happy every single day, every single time I see it, I love the Riva and looking at the boats,  I love walking in the Bacvice, Firule, Trstenik beach areas and stopping to drink a Karlovacko (my fav beer!) while sitting on a rock by the sea.

Ionut: The weather. We were never big fans of snow and winter sports, so we are so happy to be in a warmer climate. We even love the sounds that Bura makes in the night.

Mirela: The people. Everyone is extremely nice to us and willing to help out. For instance, although we only speak several words in Croatian language, all the civil servants that we had contact with (for the residency card, for the shop opening etc.) were extremely nice to us and also very efficient, a big “Hvala!” to all of them. And we also felt “adopted” right away… from the owners of the apartment we rent in Firule, to the beautiful and lively expat community from Split, everyone contributes to making us feel so “at home”.

Ionut: The traffic. Everywhere we need to go, it always takes from 3 to 20 minutes tops and roads are never crazy busy and drivers are so much more relaxed (compared to Bucharest, where everyone spends several hours in traffic each day). Not to mention that we are walking a lot more than in Romania, which is such a big plus.

Mirela: The food. We are vegetarians and we feel spoiled for choice, from blitva and kale to the amazing taste of the fruits (the freshly picked oranges and mandarins have such a different taste than back in Romania). The olive oil is amazing. And I personally have become a truffle addict! Oh, and a big burek fan!

Ionut: I know you said five, but can I add just one more? The laid back atmosphere. We led very stressful lives before moving here and so the change in pace was quite dramatic. We are learning about slowing down, about polako and fijaka. There is only one thing we regret: that we did not move here sooner…